In just a couple of weeks, my friend Claire and I are starting a series of "professional support groups" called Realigning Your Professional Self. We wanted to put this together for a couple of key reasons: First, there are not enough spaces where professionals can vent, gain perspective, or just be seen and heard. Work is hard, y'all, and without a safe place to process what goes on there, we can get burnt out, resentful, and lost.
Second, not everyone needs a major career overhaul. Sometimes we just need small tune-ups along the way, as if we're getting a regular "Career Oil Change."
It can be tough to know if we really need something to be different in our career or if something else is at play in another area of our lives. If you're feeling relatively healthy and stable in your body, your relationships, and your finances, it's much easier to pinpoint a work-related issue.
Even if you're not feeling stable in those areas, however, there are still a few sure signs that a tune-up would be useful:
- You constantly feel overwhelmed and mentally "flooded" at work
- You get a pit in your stomach when you walk through the office door or even think about going to work
- You find yourself getting anxious, angry, or sad at the end of your weekends
- You're exhibiting physical symptoms that weren't there previously, like a racing heart, excessive sweating, headaches, etc.
Other less urgent signals might be things like boredom, feeling drained at the end of each day, or just sensing a tug toward something new.
None of these signs mean you're bad or that you've done something wrong, they're simply your intuition trying to send you a message.
You probably need a little professional realignment, and knowing what kind of tune-up you need is immensely helpful.
When we're in that space of sensing that something's not quite right, we can ask two powerful questions that are posited by Chris Guillebeau in his fun and accessible book, Born For This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do.
The first question to ask ourselves is: Is it working?
Is the work you're doing actually working, as in: Is it bringing in enough money for you? Are you able to produce quality work? Is what you're creating resonating with the people it's meant to resonate with? Basically, is your career functional?
The second question is: Do you still enjoy it?
You might be getting promotions left and right, but do you hate the work? That's a red flag. In order to create a career that's energizing, meaningful, and a reflection of your unique giftedness, it's critical that you actually enjoy the day to day work.
Try to determine whether you enjoy the work itself or the fruit of the work, like praise from others, the "status" it gives you, industry accolades, etc. While all of those things might be fun results, if you don't feel a connection to the work itself, you may not be operating in alignment with your strengths, which can eventually feel really draining.
If your answer to both of those questions is "yes," then you're probably in the right spot professionally, which is great!
If you answered "no" to one of them, then maybe it's time to make a career pivot or switch some things up in your current environment. This might mean that you need to take on more responsibility at work, foster more connection with your peers, or commit to doing less each day. Your first step if you answered "no" to just one of them will be to try and optimize the aspects of where you are right now.
If you answered "no" to both of them, then something bigger needs to shift so that you can be expressing your gifts in a way that's more fulfilling and in a way that actually works. If you're in this bucket, there are a lot of amazing resources available to you, whether it's a book like Born for This, a career coach you connect with, or (the most amazing resource) your own intuition.
A very important point: going through this exercise will only be helpful if we can be completely honest with ourselves as we answer those two questions.
If there's any part of you that hesitates to admit that things aren't working, or that tries to convince yourself that you do still enjoy it when deep down you know you don't, notice it.
It can be really hard to admit to ourselves that something we've worked at for so long just isn't fitting for us anymore. I've been in that place, and I can tell you how uncomfortable it is.
This summer, I reached a breaking point in my own worklife where I knew that the answer to that first question, "Is it working?" was a "No." My work didn't seem to be resonating with my community, the money wasn't flowing like I needed it to, and things were just totally stagnant.
It took a while to accept this reality, but finally I broke down to a mentor and, in-between tears, I admitted that things were broken.
Just saying those words was incredibly freeing. It didn't mean I knew how to fix things, but I was putting so much effort toward strategies that were getting me nowhere, and in that moment, I got to reclaim all of that misguided energy.
It felt terrifying to face the shame I felt. I had been subconsciously hiding this secret, that things weren't working, because I thought that if I admitted it, it meant that I was a failure - that I couldn't be an entrepreneur, or a coach, or a help to anyone. But that wasn't true.
It was my own fear of facing what was really going on that was hindering my ability to support myself and others.
As with every other time I've spoken the truth to myself, I felt free.
I could rest. I could cry and admit that things really sucked. I let myself feel some self-pity, I declared that I wanted things to be different, and then something really lovely happened: the clarity I needed came to me and I've had the best three months I've ever had in my business.
I say all this because while Guillebeau's questions are elegantly simple, our egos can over-complicate things in order to try to protect us from the truth.
The truth will feel clear and expansive to you. Even though I didn't like the fact that I had to answer "No" to that first question, it was so lucid that it felt like an immense relief to accept it.
We have to be honest with ourselves if we're going to find our way.
If you're seeing the signs that something isn't working for you anymore, it can be an amazing opportunity to practice authenticity. You can choose freedom and answer those questions in a way that resonates deeply with you - the way that only the truth can.